The following is an answer given by Mufti Waseem Khan while responding to a question concerning the verse of the Holy Quran which speaks about correcting a disobedient wife.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Before explaining the verse of Sura An Nisa which speaks about ‘the way of correcting a disobedient wife’, it is important that one understands the beautiful teachings of Islam which have been given with respect to good treatment to one’s wife. In the absence of such information and knowledge, one will normally be led into thinking that Islam has encouraged a person to be harsh and cruel to his wife, which is indeed very far from the truth. In contrast to this idea which has been propagated by those who are opponents to Islam/Muslims, one will find that there is no other religion on the face of the earth which has given such teachings that Islam has given with respect to good treatment to one’s wife. In fact, it can be safely concluded that there is absolutely no such teaching in Islam which indicates to, or encourages harshness and cruelty to one’s wife.
The Holy Quran itself has out rightly condemned such behavior when it states, ‘And live with them (your wives) in all goodness’.
Here, the Muslims are ordered by Allah to live with their wives in goodness and kindness. They are also ordered to treat them well.
In a tradition, it is narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (SAS) said, ‘The Most perfect of the believers in faith is he who is the best in conduct, and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives’. (Recorded by Tirmizi who says that it is sound and authentic).
In this tradition, the Messenger of Allah (SAS) has clearly indicated that one can attain good faith when he is good to his wife. It means therefore, that good treatment to one’s wife is part of the faith of a Muslim.
In another tradition, the Prophet (SAS) said, ‘Treat women well, and be kind to them. (Bukhari & Muslim).
The above order of the Prophet (SAS) is one which he gave repeatedly to the Companions. He emphasized upon his followers to be kind and loving to their wives. He did not even encourage the act of hating or having dislike for one’s wife. In this regard, he said, ‘let no believing man hate his wife. If he dislikes one of her traits, then he shall be pleased with another that is within her’. (Muslim).
In another tradition, the Prophet (SAS) is reported to have said, ‘Lo! (Follow my command) treat women well and with kindness, for they have submitted themselves to you’ (that is, they are under you). (Ahmad, Ibn Majah).
The Prophet of Allah (S.A.S) did not only exhort his followers/ Companions to be good to their wives, but he was also a role model in this respect. He was the most loving and kind husband to his wives, he never lifted his hand to any one of them, nor did he ever shout or rebuke them for anything. If he was displeased with any of their acts, he simply remained silent and did not say anything. He was always mindful of his duties towards them, and he never behaved in a manner that brought about harshness, cruelty or ill conduct on his part. To his wives, he was a simple human being, who was extremely kind. In this regard, when asked about the home-life of the Prophet (S.A.S), Aishah (R.A) replied, ‘He was a simple human being who would look after his garment, milk the sheep, and would do his own work.’ (Fathul Baari).
In another tradition, Urwah related that his father said, ‘I asked Aishah (R.A) what would the Prophet (SAS) do in (terms of work) in his house?’ She said, ‘He would stitch his garment and mend his shoes, and he would do the same work that men (normally) do in their homes.’ (Shamaa’il)
Aishah (R.A) also narrates that ‘the Messenger of Allah (SAS) would serve his family, and then when the time for prayer arrived, he would leave to pray.’ (Bukhari, Tirmizi, Ahmad).
It is these wonderful attributes of the Prophet (SAS) that made him the ideal role model for husbands. In fact, he clearly stated that he was the best to his wives. The tradition recorded by Imams Ahmad and Ibn Majah records the Prophet (SAS) as saying, ‘The best among you are those who are best to their women (wives) and I am the best among all of you to my wives.’ (Ahmad, Ibn Majah).
Based on these traditions, it can be clearly seen that the Prophet (S.A.S) propagated through his blessed words and actions, good treatment to one’s wife.
Apart from this, the Holy Quran has also provided clear guidance in this respect.
In one verse, we find that Allah has given a beautiful description of the husband-wife relationship. It states, ‘They (your wives) are your garments and you are their garments.’ (2:187)
This beautiful description indeed sums up in an excellent way the relationship of the husband to his wife and the relationship of the wife to her husband. As one’s clothes are close to one and nothing is between one’s clothes and one’s body, similarly, a husband and his wife are closely related to each other. As the clothes protect a person from the heat and cold and from the vagaries of the weather, so to the husband and his wife protect each other from the onslaught of social evils and moral vices of base passions, lewdness, fornication, iniquity, sexual indulgence etc. The husband and the wife are thus for mutual support, comfort and protection, fitting into each other like garments.
In another verse, the Holy Quran has declared the wife as a tilth (garden/ field) for the husband. In chapter 2 verse 223, it states, ‘Your wives are as a tilth for you.’ Here, the relationship has been declared to be that which exists between a tiller and his tilth, a cultivator and his field and a farmer and his land. As the farmer goes to his field not as a matter of sport or enjoyment, but with the serious intention of getting as good produce as he can, so he works hard, sows seed and protects his field and crops from the natural calamities as well as the trespass of human beings and animals. Similarly, the husband is required to take this relationship seriously and not to consider his wife as a source of mere enjoyment and pleasure. He should provide her and his children with the best maintenance as he can, and must also provide them with affection, protection and security, comfort and happiness.
Islam, for the first time in the history of man (on earth), raised the status of women from mere chattel which was to be owned and possessed and enjoyed like any other object of property, to the status of a human being having similar rights as that of a man. In this regard, the Holy Quran states, ‘And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable.’ (2:228)
From these passages, and from the blessed traditions of the Holy Prophet (S.A.S), it is clear that Islam has given a tremendous amount of teachings regarding good treatment to women. Husbands are required to abide by these teachings and follow in the footsteps of their Prophet, Muhammad (S.A.S) who was the best husband to his wives.
However, notwithstanding the fact that a man may continue to be exellent to his wife, there are times that the wife turns to wrongdoing, immorality and sins. She is sometimes coaxed into wrongdoing by friends and family members, or may be naturally inclined to go in this direction. These ills (on the part of the women), if not corrected, can put a heavy strain on the marriage and may also bring about difficulties in the future of the children. It is in order to deal with this issue that Allah has revealed a verse in the Holy Quran which spells out the guidelines for dealing with issues of this nature.
Correcting one’s wife
The verse which speaks about correcting one’s wife is that of Chapter 4 Verse 34 which states, ‘As for those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), next, refuse to share their beds, and (last) strike them (lightly, if it is useful)’.
Regarding this verse, the late grand Mufti of Pakistan, Mufti Muhammad Shafi (A.R.) has given a wonderful explanation in his book Ma’ariful Quran.
He writes, ‘The Holy Quran gives men three methods of correcting the behavior of the wives. These are to be followed in the order they have been mentioned. The verse says: If you fear or face disobedience from women, the first step towards their correction is that you should talk it over with them nicely and softly. Still, if they remain adamant and do not change their attitude by conciliatory counsel alone, the next step is not to share the same bed with them, so that they may realize the displeasure of the husband as expressed through this symbolic separation and may feel sorry for their conduct. The Holy Quran uses the words ‘in beds’. It is from here that Muslim jurists have deduced that this staying apart should be limited to `beds’ and not to the ‘house’ itself. In other words, the woman should not be left alone in the house, something which is bound to hurt her feelings much more, and which makes the possibility of further straining of relations far stronger.
A Companion reports, `I said: `0 Messenger of Allah, what right do our wives have on us’? He said: That you feed them when you eat; provide them with apparels to wear when you have these for yourself; and do not hit the face and do not say abuses to her; and do not leave them apart unless it is within the house. (Mishkat pg. 281)
If this gentle admonition fails to produce any effect, some corrective form of a little ‘striking’ has also been allowed as a last resort, of course, in a manner that it does not affect the body, nor goes to the undesirable limits of hurt or injury to the skin or bones. As for slapping or hitting on the face, it is absolutely forbidden.
The first two methods of admonition, that is, ‘seeking to convince and leaving apart in beds’, are more or less an exercise in nobility against arrogant lack of compromise. Prophets and their righteous followers have spoken in favor of it. That they practiced what they preached, is also a proved fact. But, this third method of admonition, that is, striking, has been permitted as a forced option in a particular mode. Right along with this option given to men, it appears in hadith that ‘good men among you will never beat women.’ Thus, such an action is nowhere reported from the blessed Prophets of Allah.
According to a narration from the daughter of Sayyidina Abu Bakr (RA), as reported by Ibn Sa’d and al-Baihaqi, the beating of women was absolutely prohibited in the early days, but this resulted in their becoming much too oppressive, following which the permission was reinstated.
The present verse relates to one such event, which can be termed as the background (cause) of its revelation. Sayyidina Zayd ibn Zuhayr had married his daughter, Sayyidah Habibah to Sayyidina Sa’d ibn Rabi’. During a dispute over something, the husband slapped her. Sayyidah Habibah complained to her father, who took her to the Holy Prophet (SAS). The Prophet (SAS) declared that Habibah has the right to hit Sa’d as hard as he did. Hearing this decision of the Prophet (SAS), they started back home to take their revenge upon Sa’d. Thereupon, this verse was revealed in which the striking of women as the very last option has been permitted, and no retaliation or revenge against men was allowed. So, soon after the revelation of this verse, the Holy Prophet (SAS) called both of them and asked them to abide by the injunction from Allah Almighty, and abrogated his first directive permitting the seeking of revenge.
Towards the end of the verse, it is said: ‘Then, if they obey you, do not seek a way against them’. It means that should the women mend themselves after that triple-stepped approach, men should forgive and forgo the past events and avoid looking for ways to find fault with them on flimsy issues as the power of Allah controls everything. (Ma’ariful Quran Vol. 2 pg. 393-395).
From the explanations given, it is clear that the Holy Quran has given three steps which are to be implemented by a husband in correcting his wife. These are, in reality, measures, which if adopted, can save a marriage from reaching the brinks of divorce and separation. As mentioned before, these three steps must be followed in stages. One cannot move to stage three when he has not gone through the stages of one and two. In other words, whenever there is some sort of ill-conduct on the part of a wife, the husband is commanded to first speak to her in a nice manner in order to correct her. If after speaking to her for some time, she does not correct her behavior, then he must move to the next step which is to refrain from sleeping on the same bed with her. It is expected that this second step may be fruitful in correcting a disobedient wife.
If after having tried this step, it does not work, then he may turn to the final stage of a light reprimand if he, the (husband) knows that it may correct his wife. This however, must not be severe or harsh, and must not create any form of hurt or injury to the wife. An important point to note from the verse is that Allah Has given three stages of correction when it is evidently clear that the wife is openly disobedient and is involved in wrongdoing. If this is not the case, then striking the wife is totally haram (unlawful in Islam). Therefore, it should be understood that the different cases of domestic violence which take place on account of petty issues and disagreements between the spouses, cannot bring about the permission of a light reprimand as mentioned in the above verse. In many of these cases, we find that domestic violence arises on account of regular misunderstandings, heated arguments, the fight for male domination, severe anger on the part of the husband, and also, the failure of the husband to fulfill the rights of the wife and be honest in his marriage. In these situations, it is often seen that the wife is not guilty of disobedience or wrong doing, it is simply a matter of the violent reaction of the husband. Sometimes ‘wife beating’ takes place when the wife did not prepare a meal, or when she did not wash her husband’s clothing, or any other petty issue of the same nature. In all these cases, Islam outrightly condemns the act of striking the wife since it does not grant any permission of striking for these reasons.
The allowance to discipline the wife and the manner of this discipline has been outlined in the verse mentioned above (i.e. 4:34) and remains confined to the case when disobedience and ill conduct/wrongdoing on the part of the wife is evident. This does not extend to other situations as mentioned above.
The tradition of the Prophet (SAS) has also explained the nature of wrongdoing on the part of a wife that brings about the allowance to admonish which has been given in verse 34 of Sura Nisa. The tradition states that the Prophet (SAS) delivered his farewell address on the last Pilgrimage and said to his Companions and followers, ‘O people! There are rights in favour of your women which are incumbent upon you, and there are rights in favour of you which are incumbent upon them. As to what is incumbent upon them in your regard, is that they should not let your beds be trampled by others besides you, should not allow those to enter your houses whom you do not like without your authorization, and should not commit turpitude. If they commit this, then Allah has given you permission to reprimand them, to separate yourself from them in beds, and to strike them without causing pain, harm and injury. If they abstain (from this wrongdoing) and obey you, then it is incumbent upon you to provide their food and clothing in goodness. And I command you to treat women (your wives) well, because they have submitted themselves fully to you in your houses, possessing nothing for themselves. You, on your part have taken them as a trust from Allah and derive benefit from them on account of a word from Allah. So fear Allah with regards to women (your wives) and I order you to treat them well.’ (Ibn Hisham).
From the above, it is clear that the allowance to admonish comes about when a woman is guilty of a grave wrongdoing and may be involved in such acts which bring about mistrust in the marriage relationship. (as mentioned above).
In order to appreciate the ease and leniency of the allowance to reprimand as given in the Holy Quran, one can simply look at the non-Muslim’s behaviour and conduct when they find their wives involved in any such acts which have been highlighted in the above tradition. Their behaviour in these situations is sometimes worse than animals. They insult their wives publicly, they slap them on their faces publicly, they walk out on them, leaving them alone on the streets, shops, restaurants and even in the homes. Their anger, their temperament and their conduct are in most cases opposed to good conduct. In contrast to this behaviour, one would definitely conclude that the guidelines placed by the Quran in this regard are filled with good morals, etiquettes, good conduct and a high form of discipline.
With respect to the striking which is given as an allowance as a last resort, this must not be done on the face. This is prohibited as it is totally condemned in the traditions.
Secondly, as highlighted before, this striking must not cause pain, harm or injury to the wife.
In this respect, it is recorded in a narration that the great Tabi’ee (scholar) Ataa asked his teacher, Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A) (the companion of the Prophet(SAS)), ‘What is striking without causing harm (as mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah).’ He, (Abdullah bin Abbas) said, ‘It is to strike, with a miswak or anything small like that’. (Ibn Jareer, Tafseer Al Qurtubi Vol. 5 Pg. 166).
(Note – A miswak is a small twig which measures opproximately six(6) inches long and is approximately half inch (1/2”) in diameter). From this, it can be well understood that no possible harm can emanate from such a small twig, if it is used to cause a light reprimand.
It is also evident from the above explanation that the verse of the Holy Quran does not support the present cases of domestic violence that may exist among spouses, where grave injustice and harm is done to a woman.
Alhamdulillah, all praises are for Allah who Has given us a perfect way of conduct and has given us guidelines to control our behavior and emotions in all cases. In this verse, Allah has outlined to the believers, the pattern of noble conduct in the case of the wife’s disobedience. By giving us this guideline, a Muslim is able to control his temper and anger and can limit himself to an act which does not cause harm to anyone including his wife.
Today, we see that because the non Muslims do not have these beautiful guidelines, they commit grave wrongs to the wife. They beat their wives like animals, they whip them with straps and sticks and they cut them with knives and razors. Some murder their wives, they shoot them, cut off their necks and they poison them.
It is extremely sad to know that while the world is filled with such wrongs done to women, media houses and so-called leaders do not speak about it. The so-called modern man does not speak against it, the religious leaders of other religions do not speak against it, the media do not highlight many of these horrors, but the beautiful advice given in the Quran is given and shown to the non-Muslim world to say that Islam encourages beating of women. This is a grave falsehood on their part and it is far from the real truth.
In conclusion, we say that Allah Has given Islam as a complete way of life, and this perfection also includes the way of dealing with the issue of a wife who is upon ill-conduct or wrongdoing.
Non-Muslims may view this as a harsh punishment, but in reality, it is far lighter than what many non-Muslim wives have to go through when they are caught in ill-conduct by their husbands. Many reports show that when a man finds his wife cheating on him, he turns to the most wicked and evil forms of punishment in order to correct her. In some cases, the wife even loses her life.
The wisdom behind offering this guideline to the Muslims can be seen from the fact that if a wife is not corrected for her ill-conduct/disobedience/wrongdoing (and then reforms herself), her behavior ultimately puts a strain on the marriage which eventually ends up in a divorce. The divorce which takes place at this time then brings about a tremendous amount of new problems, especially when it involves children. The stress, depression, lack of fatherly protection and guidance, and motherly affection and love, all contribute to the ruination of the children’s future when a divorce takes place between their parents.
In many cases, the wife must return empty-handed to the parent’s home after having spent many years in a beautiful marriage. The loneliness, sadness, lack of love and attention, and the grief on account of a divorce, destroys her, and hence, is more severe than a light reprimand which could have corrected a situation and avoided a divorce.
It is therefore of paramount importance, that one looks at the good outcome of the Quranic guidelines and appreciate the wisdom of the Law Giver (Allah) before falling prey to ‘a thinking’ that is based on an anti-religious understanding.
The Quranic law given in the above mentioned verse was revealed over 1400 years ago. People of every culture, race and creed read it and became aware of it. Millions of people from different lands accepted Islam through the ages. From the extreme places of the east to the west, and from the north to the south. Every tribe, region and province welcomed Islam for its beautiful teachings and guidance. The Quranic law became the law of the state in Spain, China, Turkey, Africa, India and a whole lot of other countries. All accepted it, they appreciated it and transformed their lives on account of the miraculous effects of the teachings of the Quran. History bears ample evidence to the fact that through a period of 1400 years, having gone through different lands, culture and races, no one opposed, condemned or criticized the law of the Holy Quran which spoke about correcting a disobedient/wrongdoing wife. Instead, the people appreciated it and practiced upon it and hence, were able to see the great wisdom incorporated in the law. It is only in our so-called modern times, some non – Muslims of the Western Society have lifted their fingers and raised their voices against the divine God-given laws of the Quran. It is these people who have given the license for lesbianism and homosexuality. For them, there is no difference between morality and immorality, decency and indecency. They follow the religion of ‘No god’, ‘No limits’, and ‘No restrictions’.
It is these critics of Islam who adorn themselves with lewdness and iniquity, follow the path of looseness and freedom, and have considered religion (especially Islam ) to be outdated and a thing of the past.
As Muslims, we must consider them as agents of Satan, who seek to misguide and mislead the believers. Their voices will grow louder because the modern world is in favor of them, however, we must not pay attention to what they say. We must be mindful of our religion, preserve our faith, and know that Islam is the way of truth, success and salvation.
And Allah knows best
Mufti Waseem Khan